Standing Loud and Proud in South Kansas City
More than a man cave, this fascinating garage is a page-turning story in and of itself.
Story by Ann Butenas | Photography by Matt Kocourek
While this unpretentious yet visually stimulating south Kansas City residential garage makes an unforgettable first impression, there is more to this unique display of treasures, unusual finds, artifacts, and curious discoveries than meets the eye.
With a personality all its own, this one-of-a-kind garage houses not just a collection of things that speak to its owner’s soul, but it also tells a captivating story, with each item contributing its own chapter in a book that will most likely never have an ending, at least not for quite some time.
“When I built this house in 2005, I intentionally put in a big garage,” noted owner John Stuerke, who tore down a barn in Northern Missouri and used that barn wood, along with some corrugated metal, to wrap and accentuate his garage, giving it a charmingly weathered and rustic appeal.
Fifteen hundred square feet in size, this double-deep and double-wide garage holds up to four vehicles, but its true purpose is to house Stuerke’s own personal story. When Stuerke completed the construction of his home, he decided to have a party, a “get to know your neighbors” kind of gathering. The garage was the perfect venue but at the time all it had to offer in terms of visual appeal were some 2x4s and insulation. Although the inaugural party was a success, Stuerke decided to spruce the place up a bit for future gatherings, staring a new hobby that has since grown by leaps and bounds.
“After that party, I was driving down State Line Road near Mission Hills and saw this discarded plastic horse outside a home, and that was the beginning of my collection,” Stuerke mused, who admits there is truly no rhyme or reason to his décor, although the underlying theme is loosely based on some old juke joints coupled with his passion for blues music.
While Stuerke enjoys discovering new finds on his own for his collection, he also has received gifts from friends and family over the years.
“I also get some of the items at auctions,” he noted. “However, I don’t want to get anything that I have to store on the floor. It all has to be able to be hung or mounted on a wall.”
Further, Stuerke is somewhat particular about what he allows to take up residence in his garage.
“It has to strike me and it has to be unique and interesting,” he indicated. “Plus, everything has a story, which is more important than the item itself.”
As his eclectic collection quickly grew, Stuerke’s garage rose to fame, taking the number three spot in Kansas City Star’s “Top Three Man Caves” contest several years ago. The space was also a featured garage in newspapers in Seattle and Minneapolis.
In addition to growing his collection through gifts and auction purchases, Stuerke sometimes acquires items through other means. Translation? Let’s just say sometimes at 1:30 in the morning after a fun night out on the town can lead you to discover some interesting treasures in the woods or in abandoned buildings.
“I never do anything illegal to get these things and certainly would never take anything from someone still in business,” he assured, but admitted to some pretty epic adventures when securing some of his finds, such as the sign on the ceiling of the garage, which he acquired from an abandoned bar in St. Thomas.
“A buddy and I had been out having a few beers and then we stumbled across this particular find,” recalled Stuerke. “So I just boosted him up on the pole and he got it down.”
While it would undoubtedly take hours to comb through all of his acquired treasures, a few of the most eye-catching ones truly take the stage.
For example, Stuerke has an authentic skeleton from 1864, which he purchased at an auction from a mortician. Then there is the unforgettable Wildebeest, given to him from a former girlfriend who was once married to an ex-game hunter. This creature was shot in the Serengeti years ago, and its rather frightening appearance is what appealed to Stuerke.
“It looks like an ugly horse with horns, sort of like an underdog, and I love underdogs,” he smiled. “I also have a mounted Texas wart hog, which I got at an auction. With his 1 ½ inch long teeth, he looks like an angry, mean pig!”
The back end of an old Impala automobile turned into a couch offers a place to sit down for a bit. Stuerke purchased this at an auction and the tail lights still illuminate. Other fun discoveries in this garage include a mannequin, various commercial signs from places across the country, an old bicycle from an Irish bar, and a weathered white life preserver.
The 1965 Catalina convertible parked here still runs and is not part of Stuerke’s growing treasure chest, which will continue to expand until all parts of the walls and ceiling are covered. Stuerke intends to hold fast to his “nothing on the floor rule” for good reason.
“I have to make room to park my date truck and my lawn care equipment,” he laughed. Plus, Stuerke has been known for some legendary gatherings at his place, featuring a few big name acts on occasion, such as Grammy winners Bobby Rush and Chubby Carrier.
When this garage has reached its limits, Stuerke has no intention of putting an end to his collection.
“I have a cabin in Higginsville, Missouri,” he referenced. “That will be my annex.”